For Michael Bechara, converting the art-storage rooms adjoining his Surry Hills, NSW, home into a one-bedroom guesthouse was a chance to create a laid-back environment that was a welcome break from the clean lines of designs he handles for his own company. “I didn’t intentionally set out for the guesthouse to differ from my work; the raw aesthetic just suited our vision for the space,” explains Michael of the creative two-level retreat that many of his friends call a home away from home.
Art plays a starring role in Michael and his partner Axel Osborne’s lives – Michael offers art consultancy as part of his interior-design business, and Axel is a successful contemporary artist – so when it came to creating the guest quarters, it made sense to simply move the impressive collection of stored works straight up onto the walls. “It’s just a really practical, fun space. It has an artist’s studio feel about it,” says Michael. “For visitors to the space, there’s a lot to take in, and they defi nitely don’t get bored.” Michael created a pared-back white shell, complete with dark-grey painted floors, to serve as a backdrop for his mini gallery and vintage furniture finds from his global travels.
The resulting space is a rich combination of refined details against raw simplicity, such as a black glass Miele cooktop in the kitchen, fitted onto a simple plywood bench. Designed by Michael and constructed by Axel, who has a furniture-making background, the kitchen is a masterclass in creative reinvention, with benchtops made from salvaged material and the floor covered with the original 1960s blue mosaic tiles. Everywhere the tone is set by unfussy finishes and installations, nowhere more so than in the kitchen. Instead of a splashback above the kitchen sink, for instance, the render has been left untreated. “We loved the texture,” Michael says. “Rather than trying to refine everything, we thought we’d embrace the imperfections.”
The inventiveness continues in the living room, where lamps have been fashioned by mixing components from various vintage lights. “I’m always inspired by industrial and mid-century design,” says Michael, whose current favourite piece is a coffee table featuring a hand-crocheted tablemat encased in clear resin, which he bought in Beirut. “You can have fun in here,” continues the multi-talented designer. “When we were designing it, it was about creating lots of textures and visual stimulus. Nothing had to be perfect. It’s not about the latest and greatest.”
Michael’s immersion in Sydney’s art community means the display on the walls is never static. Frequently, pieces are borrowed by friends or artists for exhibitions. “I’ve never been a huge fan of salon hangs of artwork, but it just works here,” explains Michael, who plays on contrasts when planning the placement of the works. Figurative pieces are likely to hang beside non-fi gurative, while framed works often cosy up to unframed.
Michael’s skill with layering textures extends outside to the garden – a lush strip of vegetation, where he has created interest using different leaf forms and plant heights that play off each other. “I love succulents, water-wise plants and architectural specimens. Our garden is quite over the top, but I’m really happy with it,” he says of the appealing courtyard. At the back of the building, a wooden outdoor staircase provides alternative access to the upstairs bedroom; from inside, you climb an antique ladder through a hatch in the living-room ceiling. Emerging into the bedroom feels like discovering your own secret hideaway. “Everyone loves it,” says Michael. “It’s a really cool space. You feel like you can relax. With most guest spaces, people do the opposite and try to impress, when I think visitors just want to unwind.”